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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Day Downtown

Ok, welcome to the most massive post I am likely ever to do. Thanks for reading all the preceding posts - the ones that dealt overall with nothing really new or exciting. To justify my sloth, though, I'd like you to take a look at the sign to the left. That's my bus stop. First of all, I never even knew how to get to the stop until that very morning. Second of all, it's completely incomprehensible, unless you happen to know both the korean language, the various names of all the places in the vicinity, and the word for "downtown." That means 3 immediate strikes for me; it's a miracle I even made it back to school to write about it. I suppose I owe it all to Cindy (I have no idea what her real/Korean name is), the secretary at the school who had to go downtown and who kindly escorted me to the bus stup. We met up at the school and she said to me: "Mike...[points at self] english no." Meaning that we couldn't talk too much on the way to the stop or on the bus, though we managed.

So, she helped me figure out how to take a bus back with the use
of her cell phone dictionary, we hopped on the ch'il-baek-sa (704), and went downtown. She dropped me off at a rather huge bookstore and went to hang out with some friends, leaving me to fend for myself.
(excuse the formatting here - the way you compose the page looks nothing like the way it comes out, and too many editing attempts have already resulted in the deletion of a picture. it showed a man pushing a huge cart of tangerines while surrounded by much more modern tradesmen)
At first I just wandered, formulating a plan so as not to get utterly lost. Eventually I realized that these yellow signs here take you to the underground shopping mall; once you know where your bus stop is in relation to that, you can pretty much wander around all you want without having to worry.

So, I scoped out the underground mall (see later pictures). At first I couldn't tell if it was a line, a circle, or a labyrinth, mostly because it seemed to have the same stores repeating over and over again. Camera shops, watch shops, clothes, cameras, watches, clothes, etc, etc. I eventually caught on to the esoteric numbering system (the gates are in a straight line, numbered 1-16) and understood that the whole setup is not unlike a little subway tunnel that runs directly under the streed. So when it's -8 celsius and lightly snowing (as it was), you can just walk underground and come back up when you need to. Quite nice.

After doing a few laps in the mall, I surfaced to roam the streets. Note that there are lots of cars all jammed into each other. The driving here is pretty rough - not quite as terrifying as sicily, but unappealing nonetheless. Lots of u-turns (in korea, "yu-teon") in the street, cars parked halfway on the sidewalk, etc. I haven't seen an accident yet though. Unless you count a drunk man falling off his motorcylce last night, and then being too woozy to lift it back up. I silently helped him out, only to see him almost get creamed by a car when he decided to resume his trip.

Alright, this here is a gigantic department store with an italian name rendered in Korean characters. In principle it's not any different than the same thing with american words (see burger king below), but let's just say it blew my mind. The store was closed though, so my mind was blown only by grammar, and not by, I don't know, the real world.

I discovered this little park by reading signs underground. It's called 2.28 memorial park, and 2.28 has something to do with chinese new year. I had actually seen picture of this place - when it's warm enough, this little globe is the centerpiece for a nice fountain. There is also a little stream running around the whole place that eventually leads to center here.

A picture of one of the main raods.

A picture of one of the many alleys in which people sell toys and clothes and blankets and foods and hats and etc for, I assume, pretty good prices. If you go into the dingier sort of alleys, you find much smaller and dirtier stalls, weirder foods (especially types of seafood), and little shops with 10 women sitting on the floor knitting.

This is one of the in-between allies; not surrounded by high fashion shops, but not quite reaching the rustic peasant depths discussed above.

This is inside the underground mall. It's Santa.

The benches people sit on are these shiny metal rods about 7 inches in diameter that stick into two little bricks in the ground. very uncomfortable. You'd think that if you can build a fancy mall underground, you could build a bench too.

Another picture of the mall. Notice that it is clean, bright, and shiny. You can't notice the following, but take my word for it: very warm.

By the way, these pictures are in chronological order, so you can tell that I went back and forth over the same ground a few times. I went into the mall whenever I needed to warm up, and them came back out somewhere else to explore again. This is a big TV which I saw from very far away, and which pulled me toward itself by means of a powerful and irresistable glow. It's on top of a 15 story building.

Ok, here's a bugerking. The korean letters say "Beo geo keeng"
The McDonald's across the street is "Maek do nal du su."
Really, though, they pronounce more like we do than the transliteration lets on.

Don't know how this picture got taken, but if you wanted a picture of the new pumas I got (for $22.50) before leaving the states, well, here's one of them.

Also, some new/used jeans from the bargain box for $3.00. You can't see the $2.00 purplish messenger back that I'm carrying, unfortunately.

This is the 2.28 park again, this time at night, conclusively proving that I braved several hours of cold to bring you all of these pictures.

Ok, now the scary part of the day. I felt pretty secure downtown once I had figured out how to get to my bus stop. But (remember the first picture), once I was on the bus, I was pretty terrified, since I had no clue where to get off. I kept listening for a certain phrase (ch'ilgok same kuchin, or something close), but never heard it, nor did I ever recognize any landmarks. Nonetheless, the bus came to the last stop, and when I tried to tell the driver that I didn't speak Korean, he just grabbed his stomach, made a pained face, and indicated to me that he really needed to head to the bus station to take care of some urgent business. Then he said goodbye, kicked me out, and drove off.

I paced for a few minutes, and got a vague feeling that I was in the right place. My real salvation (HA!) came when I noticed the little cross on the top of the building in the picture to your upper-left. If you are a real sleuth, you will remember me discussing a "jesus loves you sign" near my school. I put two and two together and started walking home.

On the way, I figured I'd take some other pictures of my area, with the night lights and what not. This last one goes out to a certain person who is self-admittely "like a racoon for the shiny."

Phew, time to go eat some beanfishbread stuff. It seems that I've been ending all of my recent posts that way. Maybe that's the next picture you'll get.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Lost Posts

Thanks to the efforts of mom and grandma, you can now re-read those pages that you feared had been lost for all time. Actually, I'm not sure if all of them were recovered, in particular the tale of my encounter with the two ladies who claimed not to be Christians but who had me read to them about The Blessed Mother, Virgin Mary. Nonetheless shall all be able to fondly recall those first days when Mike coudln't speak Korean and could hardly order a hot dog. (I have now progressed to being able to sit down in a restaurant, alone, and then order various types of dumplings.)

I went downtown this weekend. I'll write about it on Thursday, probably, since I don't have the pictures with me now and since I don't have any time on Weds to do it.